How can someone become a Wing Chun master?

There are two types of Master

There are so-called masters, and there are genuine masters (much rarer). Each has unique requirements, as follows.

Being labelled a Master by affiliated peers

If by Master you mean credit among your friendly peers and authority within your particular school: Perseverance is key to attaining the level of Master. So long as you’re fairly able bodied, nothing else really matters, except maybe a bit of boot licking (and the willingness to turn a blind eye when you know something’s not right but don’t want to offend the teacher). Stick around for long enough and you’ll get there eventually. There’s no compensation for experience when your goal is to master a particular set of rules within a particular school.

Being a true a Master of your art

If by Master you mean someone who is so familiar with the general system of Wing Chun that they’ve corrected their own mistakes beyond what their teacher is able to do for them, and refused to continue copying the mistakes of their own teachers when confident enough to do so, due to their own talent exceeding that of their teachers and their own ability to think outside of the box and feel what’s balanced and what’s not, then we’re looking at a totally different scenario. If you wish to genuinely master the art of Wing Chun, with an intuitive feel for what you’re doing, able to practise fluently and creatively without inhibitions, correcting your own mistakes until you reach a state of near perfection and true mastery, then you’ll need a combination of:

  • Perseverance for self improvement, without attachment to any given school
  • Independent feelings – feel the balance of your own moves, when you’ve practised them enough to do so, and don’t be afraid to decide ‘this is off-balance, I should do it differently’ then persevere to find more efficient, balanced ways to do those awkward, lobsided techniques irrespective of what your teachers tell you. Many people struggle to think for themselves, or feel the balance of their own body movements – this needs to be overcome because some things simply can’t be taught, you have to feel and learn them for yourself.

Conceptually, that’s what it takes to be a master.

Specific training exercises

With regards to specific training exercises found in Wing Chun, some are more useful than others in helping you to master your art. For example:

  • Chi Sau and Chi Gerk are irreplaceable – they are the ultimate way to gain intuition for what works and what doesn’t, not just for single techniques or static positions but for the whole spectrum of techniques from a contact position.
  • From a non-contact position, pairwork practice of blocks and counters are important. Intercepting kicks to bridge the gap, combined with simultaneous block & counter with hands. Pak Sau, Bong-Lap, Tan Da (Tan + Hook), Biu Da (Biu + Uppercut). All the main moves in the classic Wing Chun vocabulary, without the mistakes that most clubs make, need to be drilled thoroughly in order to really feel comfortable as a master of this art.
  • Forms are not necessary, they are ridden with mistakes. Sure, Yip Man did them, but he was far from perfect. I stopped doing them when I became familiar enough to see a ton of mistakes in the forms, and I eventually gave up trying to create mistake-free versions of the Wing Chun forms because I realised that no complex fixed sequence of moves practised solo will ever be a great martial arts training exercise. Memory-heavy (unnatural) repetition creates unsmooth moves, a fatigued body and stunts learning. Good shadow boxing is creative and responsive, while constantly adapting to the individual’s own ever-changing learning needs, bodily tensions and balances at a given time. Following a longwinded fixed pattern of moves in thin air is never a great training exercise. The value of Wing Chun solo forms (except the dummy) is extremely over-estimated by so-called masters. The same goes for solo drills, doing punches on a spot in thin air, turning left right left right etc with Tan Sau or Bong Sau etc – it’s all terrible training when you don’t have contact from a training partner to give you feedback on how well your move is working.

Tip As a final tip

It’s very valuable to have fun when training. If you love Chi Sau that’s a huge advantage to you. They say, when you really enjoy your job you never work a day in your life. When you love your training, it’s just a natural feature of curiousity, not a chore. Play is the most efficient way to learn, as children know instinctively. Schools which operate like army regimes generally only do so to create a barrier between the teacher and the student, so that the student never challenges the teacher’s authority and never confronts him with questions about the wisdom and practicality of what’s being done.